The October 31st headline on The Washington Post editorial said it all: An ‘Idiot Wind.’ Long after the election, I expect that wind will continue to blow, because such habits of mind have a way of perpetuating themselves.
The phrase was uttered by Rashid Khalidi, an American-born scholar who heads a Middle East Institute at Columbia University. Khalidi has found himself the target of attacks by the McCain-Palin camp because in 2003 Barack Obama had attended a dinner in Khalidi’s honor. In an attempt to create something sinister about the meeting, McCain and Palin have wrongly accused Khalidi of being a neo-Nazi and a PLO spokesman. Invited by the Post to respond, Khalidi said, “I will stick to my policy of letting this idiotic wind blow over.”
Beyond the flavor of McCarthyism in the attacks lies something even more troubling. Ironically, John McCain, who so inadequately vetted his choice for Vice President, now insists that Obama should be vetting the people with whom he shares a meal or a platform. The idea is that Obama, and the rest of us, should move suspiciously through the world and avoid meeting or listening to individuals who might have opinions different from our own. This is a small, narrow-minded approach to life, and its consequences could be dangerous. It’s the kind of thinking that smacks of righteousness, a belief that we have the only possible truth, so why bother to listen to anybody else.
On the contrary, how can we hope to understand the other fellow if we define him as beyond the pale and slam the door in his face? People we now perceive as enemies (and over time enemies can become friends and visa versa) may have a point of view we should hear. It helps to see ourselves as others see us, to understand the history and culture of a different people, before we decide how to proceed. From such encounters we might grow wiser and better armed for action should that become necessary.
That idiot wind can keep on blowing only if we fall victim to its easy blandishments. The wiser course would be to open ourselves to meeting all kinds of people, even if later on some numbskull will try to tar us with the other fellow’s viewpoints. I like the fact that Obama is willing to meet with a variety of people. It’s a sign of a mature, curious mind. If he becomes our President, maybe he can persuade us to emulate him.